x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pakistan refugee crisis

With strong American support, Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani has announced a full-scale war against the Taliban resulting in a mass exodus of residents from the Swat Valley and surrounding area. Up to 15,000 security forces have been deployed in a fight against an estimated 4,000 militants. Mr Gilani also said a fund of 200 million rupees had been established to provide relief for internally displaced people.

With strong American support, Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani has announced a full-scale war against the Taliban resulting in a mass exodus of residents from the Swat Valley and surrounding area. Mr Gilani also said a fund of 200 million rupees had been established to provide relief for internally displaced people. Up to 15,000 security forces have been deployed in a fight against an estimated 4,000 militants. "Pakistan's offensive against the Taliban has forced a million people to flee their homes, the United Nations said. "Air strikes rocked Mingora, the main town in the Swat Valley, on Friday as the armed forces pressed ahead with the latest assault designed to clear the area of Taliban insurgents who have claimed swathes of the country in recent months," The Daily Telegraph reported. "The latest assessment from the UN High Commission for Refugees laid bare the scale of the fighting. The UN said that 200,000 civilians have already fled the Swat Valley and two neighbouring districts, while another 300,000 are either on the move or preparing to leave. Earlier offensives against the Taliban in other regions of the rugged North West Frontier Province near the Afghan border displaced another 500,000 people, bringing the total number displaced by the offensives to a million." Abdul Hai Kakar, reporting for the BBC said: "Most displaced people say they have left their homes not because of the Taliban's excesses, but because of shelling by the army. " 'The Taliban captured our area and started patrolling the streets, they snatched vehicles from NGO staff, government officials and private individuals, and they threatened local people,' says Nasir Ali, a high school student. " 'But it wasn't as bad as the shelling by the army - that was what actually forced us to leave our homes'... "I interviewed a large number of refugees in Swabi, but I did not meet a single person who actually saw the army and the Taliban as members of opposing camps. "Instead, I heard, they were 'two sides of the same coin'. " 'The Pakistani army has hurt us badly - but while they have killed civilians, I swear I haven't seen a single shell directed at the Taliban,' says Shahdad Khan, a refugee sheltering at a camp in Swabi's Shave Ada area. "Others question the Pakistani military's stated commitment to 'eliminating' the Taliban. " 'No way,' Siraj tells me. " 'The army brought the Taliban to our area! It's politics. The Taliban and the army are brothers.' " In The National, Nasir Khan reported: "even before the army's actions picked up steam, another national campaign was gaining momentum. Students, civil society leaders, politicians and activists united against the Taliban with the hopes they would inspire a movement as strong and effective as the lawyers' campaign which threatened to topple the government if sacked members of the judiciary were not restored. " 'This is a remarkable change,' said Amen Jaffer, a social scientist. 'For the longest time, the middle class remained silent as extremists gained attention and power. Now they are fighting back and showing they mean business.' "The protests in Lahore two weeks ago were arranged by the Citizens of Lahore, a loose platform of social, political and trade unions groups. Holding up placards saying 'No to Talibanisation' and 'No to Terrorism', the crowd chanted against religious fundamentalism. Among them was Salima Hashmi, an artist and a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. " 'The Taliban needs to be defeated,' she said. " 'They are trying to push us back into the pre-Islamic era and their claims of Islam are a sham.' "Ms Hashmi has been at the forefront of protests, demonstrations and rallies committed to ending the Talibanisation of Pakistan." In The News, Kamila Hyat wrote: "So far, the protests against the Taliban that we have seen in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi have been staged essentially by the 'elite' - that familiar set of activists and students and professionals who regularly turn out on such occasions. The fact that their numbers have grown is of course a positive sign, but other categories of people too need to be included. Most fiercely oppose the Taliban, seeing clearly through their deceit and un-fooled by their claims to speak with the voice of religious righteousness. Indeed many leading clerics too share the people's distrust for the Taliban. But fear is a powerful force. In 2007, Maulana Hassan Jan, a respected clergyman with considerable political clout as a member of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) was assassinated. His attacks on the Taliban were seen as the factor behind this. Other scholars have been threatened or driven out of Swat and other places - and with each passing month a deeper silence prevails. Even in parliament or on TV talk shows, the threat of the Taliban influences what is said. Hosts have invited in strongly anti-Taliban figures, only to be confronted when the cameras roll with a hesitance that has rarely been seen before. And of course the media's own defence of the Taliban, coupled with threats to those within it who dare to differ, adds to the eerie quiet we hear everywhere." Babar Sattar said: "The message of the Taliban or other religious bigots can be simple and appealing to a majority of the population that is deprived of basic needs, disempowered and consequently disgruntled. The contract between the citizens and the state is not being honoured by the state and thus the system neither provides for the basic needs of a majority of the citizens nor offers them any real prospect for upward social mobility. This problem of governance is then presented by the maulvi [cleric] as a consequence of lack of religion. "America, the big Satan, has mesmerized the elites of this country, explains the maulvi. These elites, as agents of the devil, have signed on to modern/western ideas that are taking our society and our country away from our religion. Our miseries are a consequence of our sins and God's vengeance and the solution is a return to a backward lifestyle that shuns modernity. The appeal of this thesis lies in its simplicity. We are unhappy with the performance of the state and the manner in which it is leading to the creation of a predatory society and crave change. And such change is promised by the maulvi in the name of religion."

pwoodward@thenational.ae